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Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts
Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts
Craig S. Keener
Baker Academic, 2011
1248 pp., 75.00

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C. Stephen Evans

Objects of Wonder

How credible are accounts of miracles?

David Hume's essay on "Miracles" is one of the most influential products of the European Enlightenment. The essay, in reality a chapter in Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, fits quite oddly into the book; it isn't even clear that it is consistent with other things Hume argues. Some think the chapter was included by Hume so as to ensure that the book would gain enough notoriety not to be ignored, the fate that had befallen his earlier Treatise Of Human Nature. Though Hume's argument against belief in miracles has been endlessly discussed and frequently refuted (including by myself), it is still a staple in philosophy of religion courses. Despite the refutations, I would guess that many secular philosophers suppose that Hume's argument continues to make rational belief in miracles difficult or impossible.

Most readers see Hume's case against miracles as having two distinct elements: First, Hume offers a general argument that belief in a miracle would be unreasonable even if we had very strong testimony in support of the miracle. The heart of this argument is a claim that miracles are so inherently improbable that it is always more probable that a report of a miracle occurring is false than that the miracle actually took place. Second, he argues that the actual testimonial evidence in support of miracles is quite weak. One reason this is so is that claims of miracles "are observed chiefly to abound among ignorant and barbarous nations." Hume says that when we examine the "first histories of all nations" we find ourselves "transported into a new world" in which ordinary natural processes are overwhelmed by "prodigies, omens, oracles." The reader of such histories is bound to wonder why "such prodigious events never happen in our days."

One might wonder whether Hume would have found reports of miracles quite so uncommon if he had left the streets of Enlightenment Edinburgh and talked with fisherman and farmers in the Scottish countryside. (Chesterton has a nice ...

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